Responding to comments: how do you deal with an offender who’s not committed an offence at your event?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

how would you address eg a DV or restraining order in your creation of safer spaces?

This is a bit like responding to a report about an offender, where said person was offending/had offended in another city. This actually comes up quite regularly, and is the follow up issue to ‘how do we report someone’: ‘what do we do with someone who’s been reported?’

I personally have a zero tolerance policy. If you have committed an offence in my class/event/city, and I have a report, then you are banned from all my classes and events forever.
I know that other people work with offenders to rehabilitate them, but I personally figure I only have a limited about of time and energy, and I’d much rather put that energy and time into supporting the people who don’t harass or rape people, and into my own work (eg if I’m working on s.h. stuff, I don’t have time to DJ, social dance, work on scripting performance, etc etc). In shorter Sam talk, “Fuck that shit. I ain’t got time for that.”

So when someone is reported to me for an offence in another city/country, I take I take it very seriously:

  • I find out as much as I can (though I never ask for the name of the reporting person. I’m totally ok with anonymous reports, because I prioritise the safety of reporters above all else);
  • If I get the heads-up from someone who isn’t in my trusted network, I find someone who is in that network and ask questions;
  • I am very careful to maintain confidentiality, and that means I don’t name the reported offender unless absolutely necessary;
  • Once I’ve got confirmation, I send that person an email telling them that they’re not welcome at my events (I list the events specifically), and that they will be asked to leave if they do attend. If they refuse to leave, the police will then be called. This email is an important part of developing a defence against an accusation of defamation in the future. I send an official email and ask them to reply. I don’t need to respond or follow up on that reply.
  • By the timee I get a report about a person in another scene or city or country, they’ve already committed a number of offences and have assaulted/harassed a number of people.

Note: if you do send someone an email/message/text/letter naming an offender, you may be liable for a defamation case, as it constitutes publication of defamatory comments. So a phone call is better (though it’s still not a ‘safe’ option). I take a calculated risk on this: I am prepared to pursue this to preserve the safety of my myself, my friends, my students, my peers, my teachers, my musicians, everyone. I have clearly set out my own limits, and I stick to them.
I also have a lawyer who specialises in defamation law in NSW, and is very helpful for developing strategies. I speak to her about twice every six months, and this costs me $$, which I’m prepared to spend.

If someone is notifying an organiser in another city/country, they need to be very sure that person will also be working to keep the reporter safe, and won’t tell the offender all the details. They also need to be willing to keep the person notifying them safe (offenders are often aggressive, bullying types who will threaten people who band them or report them).

So I prioritise:

  • Keeping myself safe
  • keeping the reporter safe
  • keeping the person working as an agent/intermediary for the reporter safe
  • Keeping other people in the community safe.

I figure, as with a restraining order, the reported person/offender has proved themselves a demonstrable risk, so I notify them officially that they are not to attend my events/classes, and that the consequences for attending will be X, Y, Z.
I find they often don’t try to attend anyway, because they’ve figured out that I will jump on that phone and call the police immediately.
I will not be bullied or pushed around. And I definitely will not let them threaten other people. Hell no. That’s the stuff that makes me super white-cold-furious.

When will I call the police?

I don’t notify the police about reports of sexual assault. Reporting to the police is a harrowing process for women, and we rarely come out of this well. After the past year of negotiating legal options, my opinion is that the Australian/NSW legal system is not able to protect women reporting sexual assault. So I leave that decision to the woman reporting the incident.

I will hop on the phone and call the police immediately if a known and banned offender turns up at my event, whether it’s at a public venue or a private venue. I have the local police stations’ phone numbers, and I’m more than willing to call 000.

I also have a procedure for responding to these people in person:

  • They turn up at the door and try to pay/enter
  • a volunteer lets me know (they don’t try to confront the person)
  • I tell them that they need to leave: “You are not welcome at this event. You will leave now, or I will call the police and have you removed.” (I practice this little script)
  • Then they either leave, or I call the police. They must leave _immediately_, or I call the police. If they have paid, I hand them their money (to save hassle, though I’m not required to).
  • I do not confront them, I do not touch them, I do not allow anyone else to touch them or engage with them. I make sure they see me watching them. I say nothing more than the script.
  • While we’re waiting for the police, I observe them, and I make sure no one engages with them. By this stage, most of the staff will have noticed them, and are avoiding them, and making sure other people avoid them. If they interact with anyone, I ask that person to come with me for a drink. I have noticed that other people will intervene to ask that person for a dance/talk, whatever.
  • After all this, we write a report, and I notify other organisers.

Note: thinking about all this and working on a real-time script is really distressing and tiring. So I am very careful about when I do this work, and I make sure to debrief afterwards. I speak to a psychologist about this stuff, as it’s highly distressing to deal with in real time, and across a lot of incidents.

Responding to comments: can’t we just ask people to be decent to each other?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

How about setting the expectation that men, women and everyone else in between simply behave like decent human beings?

On this particular topic, I can think of two examples of huge events that have a ‘just respect each other’ code of conduct. That’s all very well in theory (I mean, we all do just want people to treat each other decently), but it’s useless when someone comes to you at a dance in tears to tell you about Person X who’s just grabbed them in the parking lot.
Both of these events have since proved to be covering up for and enabling serious offenders.

To my mind, a code of coduct needs a few parts:
1) an overall statement of values.
What do you really value and want in your event/project? Good music? Kindness? Zero waste? Live music only? Ambidancetrousness? Historical accuracy? Welcoming all folks regardless of sexuality, ethnicity, age?
-> This value statement helps you make decisions about what you want and don’t want at your event. eg Zero waste isn’t a huge priority for me, but it might be for the Green Dancers of Sydney*

2) A definition of s.h./assault or racism, or whatevs it is you want to target in your code.
This should be based on the legal definitions of your city/state/country, but also expand to include other things you value.
-> eg the Green Dancers of Sydney literally want zero waste, so no pooping on site.

3) A process for making a report.
Including how to make the report, and what happens afterwards.

4) A list of consequences for offenders/offences.
What will happen, and who will enforce them.

Most organisers and teachers and so one have a code of conduct and that’s it.
The better organisers (eg MLX is the total best and leader for most of the world) has all four parts, and is on to THE THIRD OR FOURTH ITERATION.

Once you have to start addressing these issues, you realise you need a process for taking and sorting reports, a policy for how long someone should be banned for, some legit research into the local laws.

And THEN you figure out you need a way to script and train people for these interactions (what do you say when you kick someone out?), you need a way to keep training up to date, and you need some way of sharing information about this stuff (eg a database or resource kit).

Once you’ve done this for a while, you realise…
WHAT A LOT OF WORK.
And you need support for your safety workers, debriefing, etc etc etc.

Incidentally, most Australian and NSW businesses are legally required to address all these issues in their business plans. This is one of the reasons why going legit, rather than ‘just being friends who run a party’ is a good idea – you have access to help in putting together this sort of material.

Ongoing issues:
– this is a top-down response to incidents, which doesn’t change any of the power dynamics in our community. It just means we’ll get a steady stream of offenders we get really good at dealing with.
– most scenes have found that there’s a sudden rush of reports once a safety policy is set up, as the ‘backlog’ gets dealt with, and then the reports slow.

Things I want:

  • Someone to put together a ‘kit’ for safety champ processes, so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Eg the Dace Safe Korea people have BRILLIANT research on offences in their city. How did they collect this data? How does it compare with Sydney?
  • A shift towards the local ‘safety champ’ peer network instead of the ‘scene leaders solving problem’ top-down process. I want to see local peeps powered up to care for each other, not people just shifting responsibility onto a few powerful people.

I think we are all responsible for each other. That’s why I teach lindy hop the way I do: we’re in love for three minutes. So make it happy, safe, consensual love where we all get out happy. :D

*not actually a thing.

Responding to comments: is gendering offenders a mistake?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

How about setting the expectation that men, women and everyone else in between simply behave like decent human beings?
…Over-Genderising the issue is arguably perpetuating the inequality that causes these things to occur in the first place. The tone is set that we expect less from men.

I have just wanted to shout “JUST STOP BEING POOS!” so many times. It just wastes so much time and energy for us to have to come up with a bunch of processes and guidelines for preventing and responding to sh/a, time and energy we could better spend on DANCING.
But it just keeps happening. WHAT is wrong with these people?!

So far as gendering goes:
I think this is a very good point. At this stage, internationally, the vast bulk of offenders identify as cismen, and the vast bulk of targets/reporters identify as women (including non ciswomen).
This is representative of figures outside the dance community – it is a definite fact that most assaults and harassment are perpetrated by cismen, and women and girls are the majority of targets. The follow up fact is that men and boys are also targets for offenders, but that they under-report.
We also know that boys are probably as likely to be assaulted and harassed as girls (and I’m talking children and young teens here), but are far less likely to report than girls.

So we can say that sexual harassment and assault in the dance world reflect patterns in the wider community.

Offenders are prevalently cismen.
This aligns with what we know about how power works in our communities. I find it more useful to think of sexual assault and harassment as acts of power and abuse first. Acts of power that have sexualised settings.

What I will say, is that the dance world has been spectacularly quick and effective in its response to this issue. Within a year of Steven Mitchell being reported, we had codes of conduct and working response processes around the world. That is INCREDIBLE. And SO fast!
This is partly our challenge: we’ve gotten onto these issues so quickly, we can’t keep up with ourselves!

Australia is certainly in the lead for safety prevention and response. We are just bloody GREAT at this. It also means we’re inventing stuff as we go, rather than getting to learn from other scene’s efforts. TIRING.

I actually think Sydney is doing a truly fabulous job. Teachers across the city can speak calmly and reasonably together on this topic, they share information and resources and collaborate on efforts. That is truly crazily good work for a city with ~10 different teaching bodies and events.

I give a bunch of credit to the fact that Sydney started getting serious about lgbqt inclusiveness ages ago (still not 100% good yet though!), has leads and follows of all gender variations (still not 100% there either!), and is relatively multicultural.

I’m also really excited about the fact that Sydney has stopped relying on a top-down approach to safety (where business owners make and enforce decisions) to a flatter approach to safety (where individuals take care of each other and tell offenders to get lost).

I’m really really proud of everything people do to look after each other in Sydney. It’s really really wonderful.
But one night a week dancing struggles against a whole culture.

Responding to comments about my post ‘Stalking: online and face to face harassment’

I address some issues raised in response to my previous post, Stalking: online and face to face harassment.

Every man will feel like they’re being watched.
I hope this is true. Because they need to realise that they will be held accountable for their actions. I like to think of it more as men will feel as though they are being held to account for their actions. As Teena says, women’s behaviour is constantly observed and assessed.

The men reading this who are harassing won’t listen and consider changing.
I agree with this in part. Some men, for sure. But I’ve seen a few reports lately where it’s not clear whether the men realise what they’re doing is not ok. I’m kind of flabberghasted by how few men realise that a woman saying “Please stop touching me,” or asking their friend to ask him to stop touching them

New dancers will see this and feel threatened and not come back.
…I’m not sure about that one. Most of the women targeted by these men _are_ those newer dancers. So hopefully, it might help them realise that this behaviour isn’t ok, no matter what these men say. Some of the newer dancers I’ve spoken to or have reported stuff to their friends, etc, have said that they didn’t know what was normal or not….
But I think this is a good point.

This harassment happens to men as well as women.
I think this is an important point, but in my post I’m talking specifically about behaviour men’s behaviour towards women. It’s a deliberately gendered discussion. Not all of these men are actually straight or sexually interested in women. And by ‘women’ I’m including girls and anyone who presents femme (and I specifically include trans women _as women_ here). But this topic needs much more attention.

I’m certain men are also harassed and assaulted _by men_ (because these behaviours in the dance scene reflect what’s happening in the broader community), but I’m also certain these harassers use different strategies. I haven’t been dealing with any of these reports, and I haven’t heard any reports from friends overseas. This doesn’t mean it’s not happening, it just means we haven’t found a way to make it possible for these men to report.

Women do harass and assault, but in this post, I’m specifically speaking to _men_. Again, we will see different behaviours by women harassing other women and harassing men.

Stalking: online and face to face harassment

NB this post is part of a series:

Hello!
This year I’ve received, on average, about a report per month of men harassing or assaulting women in the lindy/blues/bal scenes. Which puts us at about 9 for the year so far.
Most of these reports have been about Australians, and most of them have been about men in Sydney. Yes, including who are part of this facebook group. Yes, if you are harassing women, we have seen you, and we have written reports. Even if you are hassling women interstate.

Most of these reports have been about harassment. So I thought I’d write a quick bit of info for the men in this group who’ve been harassing women.

The most common report is about a combination of face to face and online harassment. So, here bros, stop doing this stuff (especially to brand new dancers or young dancers):

  • Asking a woman for her phone number so you can ‘Help her find out about dancing’ the first time you meet her at her first dance. This is creepy. STOP IT.
  • Immediately facebook friending a woman you’ve just met at a dance and then sending her HEAPS of messages, commenting on all her posts, tagging her a lot, asking for her phone number, address, dates. This is creepy. STOP IT.
  • Taking photos of her and then posting them online and tagging her. This is epic creepy. STOP IT.
  • Sending lots (ie more than 2) facebook messages within an hour or two, or a day or two. If she doesn’t reply, or doesn’t send the first message, she’s not interested. STOP IT.
  • Sending lots of texts. If she doesn’t reply, doesn’t send the first message, or responds only with emojis, she’s not interested. STOP IT.
  • Demanding a woman reply to messages and texts, and getting angry or upset/saying how sad you feel if she doesn’t answer your messages IMMEDIATELY.
    This is crap. STOP IT.
  • Driving her home after a dance the first night you meet her, then ‘dropping in’ at her house randomly afterwards. This is hella creepy. STOP IT.
  • Asking her about her relationships (boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends), sex life, or intimate history. This is CREEPY. STOP IT.
  • While dancing: holding her too close and then passing it off as ‘a blues hold’ or an ‘experienced move’; touching her inappropriately (on her breasts, buttocks, groin, upper legs – you know what we’re talking about). This is really gross. And other people in the room see you and will do something about it. SO STOP IT.
  • While dancing: Physically lifting or pulling a woman into a dip, lift, or jump, even if it seems ‘small’. This is not respectful or safe. STOP IT.
  • At dances: touching too much. Unwanted cuddles or hugs, massages or ‘dance lessons’, constant ‘platonic’ touches, hand holding, ‘accidental’ touches. If you haven’t asked for and received permission for this stuff, STOP IT.
  • Continuing to do any of these things if she’s asked you to stop, or said something like “It’s a bit full on to get so many messages.”

NOTE: We SEE YOU. Other people in the room see you doing stuff that isn’t ok. And they will do something about it. So STOP IT.

— CONSEQUENCES —
If you’re doing this stuff, you’re going to get busted. What usually happens:

  • you get warned,
  • you get banned from local events,
  • you get banned from interstate and international events.
  • bans are enforced by security at events, and all event organisers are very willing to call the police if offenders try to turn up anyway.
  • yes, organisers and teachers do talk to each other about this stuff, both within Sydney, and between states and countries.

— PROCESS —

  • The woman/women you’re targeting speaks to their friend who then speaks to someone like me who organises events, to a teacher, or to a dancer who’s been around for years.
  • This person then tells you/the harasser to stop that shit, or they tell a person who can do something about it (eg an event organiser).
  •  You get an in-person warning, or an emailed warning. If it’s from me, you will get an immediate ban from all my events and parties.
  • The organiser/friend will tell other people, including other organisers and DJs in other cities and countries, who will then ‘watch’ you or warn you when you visit their town.

It is common for offenders to threaten the woman/women they’re harassing if they ‘tell someone’ about this.
Most organisers have a process in place to keep the reporting women safe: a friend or agent does the reporting, and the woman stays anonymous.

NB: most offenders harass more than one woman, and we are finding more women are reporting now.
Most offenders are seen by _other people_ who then report them. Yes, other men will report your behaviour.

— SOME DEFINITIONS —

  1.  “Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.”
    (ref: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/…/…/guides/sexual-harassment…)
  2. This can be online or face to face.
  3. Face to face harassment can include (and this includes examples of stuff I’ve read in reports this year):
  • Staring or leering eg Staring at a woman while she’s dancing or talking;
  • Deliberately brushing up against you or unwelcome touching eg Squeezing past someone to get to the water dispenser, touching her while she’s talking to her friends, holding her too close and in a sexual way during dances;
  • sexy or sexualised comments or jokes eg asking a woman about her sex life, or how often she has sex, or about her sexual preferences;
  • insults or teasing of a sexual nature eg making jokes like “X likes it a bit risky don’t you?”
  • intrusive questions or statements about your private life eg “Who is your boyfriend? Do you have a boyfriend? Why isn’t he here?”
  •  displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature eg Showing women explicit vintage ‘cheesecake’ pictures and photos on his phone at a dance;

4. Online harassment can include (and this includes examples of stuff I’ve read in reports this year):

  • displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature eg Sending women explicit vintage ‘cheesecake’ pictures and photos of sexualised vintage wear to women via facebook, suggesting she wear this outfit or would ‘look good in this’;
  • sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
  • inappropriate advances on social networking sites eg lots and lots of messages on facebook, or text messages, asking for dates, or asking invasive questions about her private life;
  •  accessing sexually explicit internet sites
  •  requests for sex or repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates eg Asking a woman to come for coffee after dancing, or to go for dinner before dancing.
  • behaviour that may also be considered to be an offence under criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking or obscene communications. eg groping a woman’s groin, buttocks, or breasts while dancing, forcing kisses and ‘cuddles’ at the end of a dance or at the end of a night of dancing.

If you are resisting addressing sexual assault at your event, you are actively enabling it.

The thing is, the only possible reason for aggressively resisting addressing sexual assault at your event is that you’re an offender. I’d add ‘or you’re actively concealing offenders’, but that’s pretty much par for the course. Aggressively resisting addressing sexual assault prevention and response processes conceals and enables offenders.

If you don’t develop policies for prevention and response, you leave the actual work up to your people on the ground – your volunteers, your door staff, your ‘middle managers’. And because they don’t have a clear policy guiding their decisions, they’ll be forced to either develop their own policy, or respond in an ad hoc way. You’ll also be making _them_ entirely responsible for OH&S at your event. Which is fine if that’s their job – OH&S officer. But if they’re the Registration coordinator or the head chef in the kitchen, then that’s not appropriate.

None of us are just naturally born knowing how to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment. In fact, many of us are trained by our families and home cultures to _avoid_ addressing these issues. And women are even further trained to be _afraid_ of addressing these issues, trained to perceive themselves as the ‘natural’ victims of assault and harassment. But despite this training – this socialisation – women in the lindy hop world have started figuring out how to respond to and prevent assault and harassment. And done a pretty darn good job. Our time line has been relatively short, from the public reports about Steven Mitchell to this moment. It’s been less than ten years. We’re pretty bloody good at this.

So if you want to run an event well, just as with decisions about what food to serve, and what to charge for tickets, you train your staff, or hire staff trained in these particular areas.

In the lindy hop world, we now have a fairly large body of first hand experience with dealing with s.a/h specifically in dance communities, _as well as_ a whole range of literature and training from other social spaces and bodies. And we are very, very good at learning and working in collaboration. It’s the one defining feature of the modern lindy hop world: we specialise in learning how to touch each other.

So why not offer your staff support and direction with a clear policy? If you’ve hired the right people, they can then go on and develop specific processes, training, and support for your event and your staff.

As I said above, the only reason to _not_ actively address these issues is that you are an offender attempting to conceal and enable your offences. The other implicit or explicit consequence of your inaction or resistance is to conceal and enable _other_ offenders.

But as a final point, I’ll also add:
Even if _you_ discourage work on these topics, your staff will be working on preventing and responding to sexual assault and harassment. Because dancers are reporting offences and expecting your event to be safe. And that is a reasonable expectation: that we will be safe at your events. So your staff are already acting on these issues.
The key issue then becomes: will you support their work, and provide them with the resources to do this well, or will you get in their way and fuck shit up?

Why you should not refuse pay in the dance world

Today on facebork, I wrote a semi-serious post listing ten opinions. One was

When you refuse to be paid for work (like teaching a class or DJing or running a workshop) you are undercutting the other workers in the market who rely on that money. Don’t voluntarily work for nothing in an industry where people are routinely underpaid.

A friend commented (and I paraphrase):
What if I have a well paid day job, but do some local teaching for money anyway, even though other people do this as a full time job and need the money. What are the ethics here?

This is what I replied.

*shrug* It’s up to you whether you do that work or not.
But if you do do it, and you don’t charge for it, you’ll end up destabilising the ‘market’ in that field. So if X knows he can get you to do the job for free, he’ll get you to do the job next time. Even if you’re rubbish at the job, or Z needs the job for the money.
Doing the work for free also suggests that the work has no value, or that doing it for free is more important than money. Or that taking money for work is somehow selfish. I see the ‘just do it for the community’ rhetoric used quite a bit in the dance world to pressure people into working for free.

As an example, a couple of years ago I wrote a nice bit of copy for a publication as part of my paid job for that publication/business. Another dance business owner saw that piece of copy and asked if they could publish that same piece in their own publication, with attribution.
[edit: I’ve just checked my emails, and there was NO offer of attribution. headdesk]
I said “I’m sorry, but no, I’d prefer it if you didn’t use that copy. I can however write a new piece for you at my usual rate.”

I had a fairly nonplussed reply from the inquirer, but my then-boss had been cc’d into the reply email (which I found highly inappropriate, but that seemed in keeping with dubious ethics at work anyway).
My then-boss actually wrote to me:

“That’s a shame you won’t let [redacted] use your copy. I’m a bit surprised. I get it, I understand, but simply take a different view. Share and share alike, community, goodwill and all those values that I strive to live by. ”

This reply made me very angry, but also made me laugh out loud.
This sort of emotional manipulation is quite common in the lindy hop world: powerful or more influential business owners often try to manipulate skilled workers (DJs, teachers, writers, illustrators, website designers, etc) into working for free using this idea of communitarian debt: that we somehow _owe_ the ‘community’ or ‘scene’ our unpaid work.

To my mind, true goodwill and communitarianism is about paying people for their work so they can then pay their bills and also feed money back into the community to pay other people to teach or DJ or play music.

So when we say “No, I will not work for free” we are also saying “Actually, I think my work is important enough to become part of the official paid economy of this community, and as a skilled worker/employee/contractor, I am worth paying with real actual money.”

I occasionally do gigs where I don’t want to be paid, and in those cases I explicitly say “Please consider my pay a donation to your event/cause.” I’ve also asked people to donate to kiva or other microloan organisations that work specifically with women, instead of paying me.

Ethnicity v race

Why do I want to hang onto class when discussing race and ethnicity in dance?

A friend, Superheidi, noted recently that she’s not entirely ok with the way some white dancers use the word ‘race’. She made the point that ‘race’ isn’t accurate; we are not different races because we have different skin colour. We are all one species.

But the social or cultural concept of ‘race’ is still important. I actually use ‘ethnicity’ more than ‘race’. ‘Racism’ is often about skin colour and appearance.
But ethnocentrism is about more than skin colour: it’s about culture and identity.
If we talk about ethnicity, we can distinguish between west africans and east africans, african americans and africans. And so on. The important points become cultural and social: who a people are rather than just what they look like. This becomes super important for first nations people who have been displaced from their homelands, especially in Australia after the stolen generation.
‘Being Black’ is about identity, culture, who we are inside.

This approach also gives us a hook for talking about whiteness, and presenting different types of whiteness as ethnicity. eg white australian = largely anglo celtic; vs white dutch. Same colour skin, different culture. Different ethnic identities.
It’s a standard distinction to make in feminist studies.
And the concept of ethnicity helps us talk about things like ways of moving your body or talking, which are learnt not biological.

For me the word ‘race’ is highly problematic. I really don’t like to use it.
Unless we are talking about racism specifically, and then I need that word. Racism is a specific issue: the hatred of a particular group of people for irrational reasons (eg simply because they look different or act differently). Ethnocentrism is a more complex concept. It’s about prioritising and privileging your own ethnicity and own lived experience. It can allow us to talk about anti-semitism, where a person might not look physically different, but be culturally distinct.

If we aren’t different races (or species) at at genetic level, how do we account for tropes in particular populations? For example, the overrepresentation of indigenous Australian youth in prisons? Or higher instances of diabetes in some African American communities?

This is where intersectionality gets really useful: class is the bigger factor in black women’s high infant mortality rates. Clearly, gender is also important, as it’s women’s bodies which are regulated by anti-abortion laws or subsidising abortion under public health care acts.

And there is some interesting work on the way trauma has a physical effect on bodies (with potential genetic damage). I remember reading about something to do with aboriginal women’s experiences with malnutrition + trauma = ill health for future generations. Starvation can cause genetic or inheritable damage too. And while these symptoms might be prevalent in black women, it’s not because these women are black, but because being black in modern American or Australian society means you’re more likely to experience violence (including sexual violence), poor educational outcomes, and other economic disadvantages, not to mention poor health care services.
In Australia, these latter symptoms are a direct result of racist government policies which reduce community-centred health care services and support services.
All of these points make it clear that while ‘being black’ or ‘being white’ has clear physical effects that are inheritable, these biological elements are the product of social, environmental factors. To be clear, then: we are the sum of our biology and our culture. Who we are is the result of nature and nurture. Ethnicity, then, is a more useful word than ‘race’, because it allows for variance, for the role of environment and culture.

When I say ‘class’ I’m also referring implicitly to education: women with a lower education level are more likely to have more pregnancies, to have higher infant mortality rates, to be in lower paid work, and to die younger. No matter what their ethnicity. But when you combine class markers with ethnicity and gender, you see a more severely disadvantaged group. Why do we see particular ethnic groups caught in these intersectional binds? Well, this is where the concept of patriarchy comes in handy: it helps us see how ideology (ideas about the world) and discourse (the way these ideas are communicated) shape institutions (like schools, hospitals, governments) and society.

So ‘class’ isn’t just about how much money you earn, it’s also about other economic advantages – the suburb you live in (and the services it has), the type and length of education you get, the health services available to you in the public system (which again are often worse, and over-stretched in black areas), the food available to you (see discussions about ‘food deserts’ in urban america), broken family networks (which leads to children leaving school to care for younger siblings, etc) and so on.

This is why capitalism is a key part of patriarchy, why Cierra’s point about vintage wear being ‘expensive’ is so important, and why I think it’s essential to hang onto intersectionality when we talk about race in lindy hop.

How to be an ally: talking about women’s health care

My friend has a male work colleague who thinks of himself as a feminist ally. He has a ways to go yet, but he listens carefully and is open to new ideas and information.

He recently said something about how there are women who repeatedly use abortion as contraception. He then expanded, telling this story of being a teenager in Wangaratta in the mid-80s and listening to his parents in dinner party conversation with the town obstetrician who told them that he’d just seen a patient who had come in for her eighth abortion.

My friend, in conversation with feminist friends, wanted to know where she might go from here in addressing the many issues raised by this highly problematic anecdote.

My first feeling is:

  • Why does he assume this is a true story, not an exaggerated one?
  • Is he sure is recollection is correct?
  • One anecdote is not a good sample size.

So he should begin by interrogating the premise of the question, rather than assuming that it is a legitimate claim. He should be asking himself “How many women have abortions?” And then “How many women have multiple abortions?” And finally “What demographic are these multiple-abortion women (if they actually exist)?”

This is the sort of research task that can easily be done by an ally (and should be).
Actually discovering data is a key part of untangling patriarchal myths. He has to understand that this tedious task skills him up (in terms of research skills), gives him an appreciation of the type of work and thinking feminists have to do to counter cultural myths, and also gives him useful knowledge.

This idea that ‘women use abortion as contraception’ is a persistent myth in our culture. It suggests that being sexually active outside of reproduction is morally wrong or self-indulgent. It also suggests that having an abortion is quick, easy, and physically just like taking the pill. All points that are easily disproved. Particularly if one is living in 1980s Wangaratta.
Acquiring an abortion requires knowledge (where to go, how to book an appointment, an understanding of termination as a real option), time (being able to go to an appointment, then get home, without dependent children or work demands), and money. If not money, then access to public healthcare. In Brisbane in the 1980s and 90s (when I was a young woman, and my friends had abortions), you also had to find a GP who would refer you to a specialist for the termination. It was illegal to acquire an abortion if you weren’t at immediate medical risk; you could go to jail for this ‘crime’.
Wangaratta in the 1980s was a regional centre. Finding a doctor for a termination in that town at that time would have been incredibly difficult. And as this anecdote suggests, maintaining confidentiality would have been hugely difficult.

But let us assume we do accept this increasingly unlikely premise. That one woman this one time had multiple abortions (ie more than 5) I’d be looking at other data:
Is she catholic or otherwise unable to use contraception (eg has an abusive, controlling husband/partner)?
Is she the victim of serial abuse by a family member where she’s desperate to terminate pregnancies and doesn’t have the autonomy to get the pill?
What was the time frame for these abortions? A year? 30 years?
The doctor had a duty of care to discuss the issue with her. Had he? Why not?

Multiple abortions don’t suggest that a woman is using termination as contraception.
They suggest she doesn’t have reproductive autonomy. Because we know abortion rates drop when education generally (esp of girls) goes up. We also know that access to good contraception decreases women’s pregnancies and number of children.

So if women and girls are educated and have access to contraception, they have fewer pregnancies. They are also, consequently, less likely to terminate pregnancies. Multiple terminations in one woman’s life then supports the theory that she does not have bodily, reproductive autonomy. In other words, she cannot make informed choices about her own fertility and body. Whether because she doesn’t have the education she needs, she doesn’t have access to contraception (which isn’t that unlikely in semi-rural Wangaratta in the 80s), or she isn’t free to choose whether or not to become pregnant.

So i think the other important point here for my friend’s male friend, is to recognise how issues like sex, reproduction, bodies, healthcare, etc are employed in patriarchal discourse. He should ask himself “Ah! A comment by a male professional with institutional power about women’s bodies which perpetuates a myth that can be used to control women’s bodies! This ticks some boxes; I need corroborative evidence.”

Of course, the fact that it’s hard to find the answer to this question tells us that this data may prove awkward for men who want to retain that myth of sexual woman = out of control hetero breeder.

Which should make us all the more curious: why hasn’t anyone asked this question before?

We do know that women’s reproductive health is a neglected area of medical research. We also know – and this anecdote makes this particularly clear – that men do not trust women to make decisions about their own healthcare.

Important note: decreasing access to safe abortion does not stop women having abortions. It stops them dying from unsafe abortions.

Vintage fashion and lindy hop: let’s add race.

Laury Windley of Lindy Shopper fame asked on fb today:

I wonder if there’s a correlation between the Internet making vintage and reproduction clothing more available to the masses and the increased incidence of people dressing up for swing dancing.

And I replied…

I think the internet definitely plays a part in shaping lindy hop fashion.
I started dancing in 1998 in Brisbane, a hot, humid sweat pit of a place that was cruel to anything vintage. I was wearing vintage before I started dancing… 60s vintage and punker fashion. But crimplene and sub-tropical lindy hop? No. But that’s 20s years ago, and mainstream fashion has changed a lot over that time.

I think a few things have shaped what people wear for lindy hop:
– Weather and climate.
In hotter climates we sweat more, and fabrics have to be able to handle that. So a wool suit isn’t often a dancer’s first choice. There simply isn’t that much vintage wear in Australia – because the climate (including the sun and sweat) destroyed it, and because of social history.

– Culture.
More importantly, 1930s and 40s fashion in Australia wasn’t like 30s and 40s fashion in the northern hemisphere. I imagine we could see some really interesting different regional vintage fashion in other scenes as well. Which of course makes me think: Korean dancers wearing 30s and 40s fashion is a whole other kettle of cultural fish. Looking at videos from Maputo (in Mozambique) lately, I see a blend of traditional fabrics (eg waxprints), vintage 30s, and modern aesthetic. And bare feet. All things that are particular to this community at this time and place. A pride in cultural heritage (waxprints), a nod to dance history (30s cuts and styles), and social context (bare feet influenced by the ‘traditional’ dance influences brought by pro Mozambique dancers to lindy hop). And that’s all before we get to bodily aesthetics.

– Dance culture.
I’ve noticed that if a lindy hop scene has members who travel a lot (ie they’re quite experienced dancers), the fashion tends more towards the ‘european or american vintage’ aesthetic. This is about individual dancers wanting to signal status/knowledge in what they wear.
Interestingly, we have a strong vintage/repro fashion scene in Sydney which crosses over with ‘swing dancing’ (not necessarily lindy hop). It’s not so great for dancing hardcore, but people live a hardcore vintage lifestyle. Chloe Hong‘s presence in Seoul does much the same. She gives us the incredible troupe uniforms (troupes are influencers!) and also that ubiquitous Whitey’s Lindy Hopper Big Apple tshirt reproduction. Both of which encourage a vintage fashion vibe. And it’s hardcore: male dancer might bring their suit to parties in a suit bag, then change in the on-site dressing rooms rather than risk them on the subway.

– Dancing.
Lindy hop has gotten a lot more athletic _generally_ than it was in the 2000s. Parachute pants are great for smoothy dancing, but a shorter skirt or more fitted trousers are better for lots of solo jazz, leaping about, etc. I’ve been most interested in the way men’s trousers taper more at the ankle to show off leet footwork in a way wide cuffs don’t.
All this athletic training has also changed professional or competition dancers’ physiology: more muscles, a greater range of movement = more care with fashion choices. A lovely 1940s dress is too precious to risk on a hardcore showcase routine with aerials.

– Gender.
We’ve seen changes in gender performance in the wider community since the 1990s and 2000s. There’s generally a greater emphasis on ‘strong’ bodies and muscle tone in mainstream media – women as well as men are into weights and resistance training in a new way. But at the same time, the more androgynous stylings of the 90s has given way to hyper-gendered styles today.
As Cierra says in that Obsidian Tea piece, this is not only about gender, but also about race, and as Shelby suggests, class. There’s a definite body type favoured by mainstream white culture, but also by lindy hop culture (which is after all a microcosm of the wider society).

Long, lean legs and buttocks, narrow busts and chests, long torsoes, long straight hair, etc etc etc.
Male lindy hoppers’ bodies are almost the same, except with shorter hair (male hair cuts!).
-> we see a very white, anglo-european body type here. It not only excludes black bodies, but also some asian phenotypes…basically anyone who’s not from this anglo-european background.
-> There’s also been a rise in what constitutes disordered eating dogma eating in lindy hop circles: ‘paleo’ ‘diets’, low-carb, high-protein, high-fat, etc etc etc. This in concert with obsessive exercise routines (remember when P90X was big?) are giving us a particularly worrying body type as a favoured aesthetic. Still very white, still relatively unattainable for most people.

The clothes that people are choosing emphasise these qualities. I wrote about the influx of high heeled shoes a while ago – and heels extend the lines of the leg to point the toe and create a very white, heteronormative feminine model. The more fitted skirt extends these straight lines. We see foundation garments becoming a very important part of many women dancers’ wardrobes: they constrain and flatten the body, erasing curves and rolls and dimpling of flesh to extend lines.
All of this actually constrains the body and limits a range of movement, not to mention comfort. Men may complain about the heat of a jacket while dancing, but it’s nothing compared to the discomfort of spanx, two pairs of stockings, underwire bras, a million bobby pins and a ton of makeup. Again, this is very much an ethnicised notion of bodily aesthetics with patriarchal effects.

It’s very _not_ like the west african aesthetics of early jazz dance.

– Fabrics.
Some really wonderful fabrics have become popular in m/s fashion over the past few years. There are some utterly amazing stretch cottons that look and breathe like cotton, but also have the stretch and longevity of a synthetic. Perfect for dancing. But this also changes the way garments wear and wear out. We can make clothes that behave in different ways – reproduce vintage styles in more athletic-friendly fabrics.

– The rise of repro fashion businesses.
This is another story about the internet. Pervasive internet access has enabled the rise of small business manufacturing models (via etsy etc), and the ‘bespoke’ trend in m/s culture has married perfectly with the aesthetics of vintage fashion. So we’re seeing repro businesses doing well online in the dance world and beyond. I think this interest in bespoke fashion works as a push back against fast-fashion, but also as a marker of class (it’s more expensive, and is often defended as being ‘better value’, even when the manufacturers are inexperienced craftspeople who might make things by hand but don’t have proper tailoring skills). This echoes Shelby’s earlier point about ‘respectability’ and race: dressing expensive suggests respectability and status.
I’ve been very interested in the way dancer-run businesses can target the nich dancer market and be sustainable. It works in bigger scenes like Seoul, but it’s also sustainable, via the internet, for a business based in Canberra to market to the international dance world.

– Youtube and social media.
And finally, access to the bodies of dancers all over the world via the internet has shaped fashion. We may have regional styles, but we also have Chloe Hong and Remix and sweet fades in every international lindy hop scene (where budgets allow). If a big name dancer wearing it at ILHC, then we’ll see it in local scenes soon after. Influencers r us.